Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority leadership is not deliberately inciting terror, contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is largely to blame for the recent spate of terror attacks. But he did acknowledge that some Palestinians could interpret Abbas’s recent criticisms of Israel as a call to arms.
Cohen told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that, contrary to the prime minister’s remarks, Abbas is not interested in fanning the flames of violence against Israel.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not interested in terror and is not leading towards terror,” Cohen told the MKs. “He is also not doing that under the table.”
The Shin Bet chief’s remarks came a few hours after two Palestinian terrorists attacked a synagogue in the capital, killing four worshipers and injuring six others.
Cohen rejected claims by the upper political echelon that Abbas is involved in stirring up tensions among Palestinians in East Jerusalem and said that the Palestinian leadership is not calling for violence. On the contrary, he said, Abbas is pointedly against launching another intifada — a violent popular uprising.
He noted, however, that the Palestinian leader’s sharp criticism of Israel — notably over the status of the Temple Mount — could be interpreted by some as a call to arms.
“There are figures among the Palestinian community who are likely to take the criticism given by Abbas as a legitimization for action,” he said. Abbas last week warned against settlers and extremists “contaminating” Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Netanyahu blamed Abbas for the gruesome early morning attack, and vowed to respond harshly.
“This is the direct result of the incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen [Abbas], incitement that the international community irresponsibly ignores.” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will respond with a strong hand to the cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were caught by dark murderous hands.”
The accusation was echoed by other ministers, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
Also blaming the “incitement, lies and hate” circulated by the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, Ya’alon vowed that Israel will “chase down the perpetrators and those who sent them everywhere and in every way, within the borders of Israel and outside.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also blamed PA incitement for the attack and implied that Israel should cut ties with the Palestinians.
“While we are making an effort and calling for calm, the brutal incitement by Palestinian Authority leaders continues and worsens,” Edelstein said. “Israel should not be dealing with those whose way is to slaughter innocents in our holy places,” he added
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in London for talks on the Middle East and other security matters ahead of a trip to Vienna for nuclear negotiations with Iran, condemned the assault and called on Palestinian leaders to halt incitement.
“Innocent people who had come to worship died in the sanctuary of a synagogue,” Kerry said, his voice quavering. “They were hatcheted, hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder. I call on Palestinians at every single level of leadership to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere, particularly after the discussion that we just had the other day in Amman.”
Cohen told the committee that the two terrorists who carried out the synagogue attack had no previous background that would raise security concerns, nor did they receive any training or support from any terror group before the incident.
Both terrorists were from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, Channel 2 reported. Clashes between residents and security forces broke out in the neighborhood.
Palestinian sources said the attackers were cousins, named Ghassan Abu Jamal and Uday Abu Jamal.
Cohen assessed that the murder of the Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir by three Jews in July was a decisive event in creating the conflict in East Jerusalem that has raged in following months.
In addition, a series of events around the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, including the visits to the site by MKs and a proposal for a bill to change the status quo in the compound — intensified the backlash from residents in East Jerusalem villages, Cohen explained. The result, he said, is a trend in Palestinians taking matters into their own hands.
“There is a phenomenon of individuals who want to carry out attacks in the wake of the events at the Temple Mount,” he said and called for maintaining a moderate response to the tension and to actively seek dialogue on the matter.
Sources at the meeting said that Cohen called on public figures to refrain from visiting the Temple Mount for the time being because of the response that it causes among the Palestinians.
“The religious aspect draped on the conflict is very dangerous and volatile because it extends to the Palestinians and Muslims around the the world,” Cohen said. “It is necessary to do everything to calm the situation.”